The United States is 12 years removed from the 9/11 attacks, but the country is still raw with emotion, as evidenced by the events that have shaped what was once called the Million Muslim March on the National Mall.
The American Muslim Political Action Committee has come under fire for scheduling the march on the anniversary of 9/11, as well as for the original name of the event. The group changed the name to the Million American March Against Fear in an effort to address concerns, but organizers feel that Wednesday is still the right date.
“The whole point of our event is to commemorate all the victims of 9/11 while opposing the politics of fear that 9/11 unleashed,” Kevin Barrett, national spokesman for AMPAC, told CQ Roll Call. He noted that supporters span the religious and cultural spectrum, including speakers such as Princeton Professor Cornel West, the American Third Position Party’s Merlin Miller and libertarian Art Olivier.
“The main reason for changing the focus of the event was that many non-Muslims expressed interest in participating,” Barrett said. “Some of us also recognized that calling it a ‘Muslim’ event could prove divisive and that it would be better to be inclusive, and try to bring all Americans together to defend the Constitution and oppose the politics of fear.”
A group that had hoped to protest the march with a “nonstop ride” through the District, organized as 2 Million Bikers to DC, was denied a permit this week by city officials. The group has said it will continue with its protest of the march, as well as commemoration of 9/11, despite the denied permit.
Barrett acknowledged it has been difficult to break down the average person’s preconceived stereotype of Muslims, regardless of whether they are Americans. He cited Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 March on Washington as the biggest inspiration for this gathering.
“Dr. King opposed war, bigotry and the politics of fear,” Barrett said. “He wanted to put an end to black Americans being second-class citizens, while bringing all Americans together to build a better country.
“We want to put an end to Muslims being scapegoated for 9/11 and made second-class citizens who can be killed, tortured and imprisoned without due process,” Barrett said. “I had to pull my children out of school and home-school them due to the Islamophobia they faced, and I’m a white guy.”
Barrett said the march has received positive responses from people in various faith communities and, while the group is realistic that this year’s march will not bring 1 million people to Washington, he is hopeful that goal will be achieved at some point down the road.
Isa Hodge, the chief of operations for the march, said people will gather on the Mall at noon Wednesday, between 13th and 14th streets.
Barrett expressed optimism that it would be a positive event, where ordinary Americans lead the way and politicians will eventually follow them.
“Black or white, Muslim or non-Muslim, leftist or libertarian, liberal or conservative, Americans can and must unite to put an end to the 9/11-triggered politics of fear, which threatens all of our freedoms and livelihoods,” Barrett said.
An earlier version of this article misstated that Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II was scheduled to speak at the march. Cleaver is not speaking.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.